Payment models and game design
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 October 2012, 3:27 am
It is sometimes surprising how different the conclusion of two people can be even if they start out from the same premise. Green Armadillo is writing about how payment models affect game design. As a fan of behavioral economics, I totally agree with that premise: Game companies will strive to design games that maximize the earnings potential of their game. But where I disagree is his idea that: "Under a subscription MMO model, customers are relatively equal in value." Because companies aren't so much interested in revenue than they are interested in profit; two customers with equal revenue of $15 per month are not of equal value if one of them causes a lot more cost than the other.

The monthly subscription model combined with today's game design is deeply flawed: Casual players subsidize hardcore players. They all pay the same, but consume vastly different amounts of resources, both in terms of content and in terms of server load / bandwidth. The reason why the monthly subscription model is currently dying a slow and painful death is that it is advantageous to only a small minority who pay a lot less per hour played, while a much larger number of people playing less intensively are driven away by a comparatively huge cost per hour. Furthermore developers often ended up spending the majority of their time creating content for the minority of players, which was never a good business plan.

Free-to-play has its own problems, but they aren't that clear cut. As Rohan says, there are lots of very different Free2Play payment models. And each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Players tend to like those models best in which they can play the most for the least amount of money, but obviously a "too free" game can't sustain itself, and a closed-down game of a bankrupt development studio isn't much use to anybody.

What is really curious is how Western game companies adopted Free2Play payment models from Asian companies, but completely failed to adopt some of the game features that make those models work. In Asian games it is common that veteran players get advantages from helping new players, which makes starting those games a lot more pleasant. But apart from Asheron's Call 1, with its vassal/liege relationships that is something that is never seen over here. Instead of leveraging social network effects, MMORPGs are being developed into a "massively single-player" direction, where players simply have no use for each other. I think that there is a lot of missed business potential in creating better relations between players, and have gameplay elements where players can work together without being forced to be online simultaneously in 4-hour blocks.

I don't think we have seen the end yet of the development of MMORPG payment models. Right now a lot is rushed, or the game is designed with one payment model in mind and then switches to another. Once big game companies design Free2Play triple A MMORPGs from bottom up, the fit between payment model and design will become better, and new game features will emerge.
Tobold's Blog

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